Lathallan School’s animals are just one part of a deep commitment to outdoor education.
Next year, for example, James Woodhouse, the school’s head of outdoor education, plans to sail with 21 pupils from Johnshaven harbour, which is on the school’s doorstep, to Marseille and back again, in a bid to complete their gold Duke of Edinburgh’s Award.
When Education Scotland inspected Lathallan last year, it highlighted “the high-quality outdoor learning provision”.
Outdoor education is also embedded in the curriculum from nursery upwards. When I visit Lathallan, Woodhouse, an ex-army officer, has returned from a three-day winter-skills course with S1 that took place in the snowy Angus glens amid temperatures of about -10ºC.
Children camp out overnight on a local beach for the first time when they are in P3 and, as well as the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award, pupils are offered the chance to undertake the John Muir Award for environmental projects in schools.
According to Woodhouse, good outdoor education includes environmental understanding, personal and social development, and adventure activities.
He believes that outdoor learning plugs a gap because children are exposed at an earlier age to consumerism, but perhaps not to “the vagaries of riding your bike or picking up chestnuts in the forest”.
At Lathallan, where the average class size is 12 and day pupils pay up to around £19,000 per year, Woodhouse concedes that its students have the sort of opportunities on their doorstep that are not available to all children.
“We should have a first-class outdoor education offer – we have a wood, we have a stream, we have a beach,” says Woodhouse.
“We are 150 metres from the sea and we are in Scotland, which has some of the best land-access legislation in the world.”